50 years ago today: ‘The fire that changed everything’

A priest blesses a deceased child after the Dec. 1, 1958, fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago. (CNS/Catholic New World)

A priest blesses a deceased child after the Dec. 1, 1958, fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago. (CNS/Catholic New World)

I had forgotten until I saw a story online in the Chicago Tribune over the weekend that today is the 50th anniversary of the fire at Our Lady of the Angels school in Chicago that killed 92 children and three BVM sisters. The Catholic New World in Chicago took note of the anniversary in its latest edition and is working on a story and photos of anniversary events that we hope to run later this week. (UPDATE: Here’s their story and one of the photos of theirs that we posted for our clients.)

My awareness of that great tragedy didn’t come until years later — I was only 6 at the time of the fire — but I can still remember the indirect effect it had on me, even though I didn’t grow up in Chicago.

Fire drills were a regular part of our routine at my Catholic elementary school in Dayton, Ohio, as they probably were at yours.  It took a while, though, for me to connect those drills to the Chicago tragedy. I still remember one of the nuns at our school exploding in anger one time when I was in third or fourth grade. Some of the boys — I don’t think it included me! — were goofing off instead of taking that day’s fire drill seriously, and that drove sister over the edge. I vaguely remember someone even mentioning that children in some other school had once died in a fire, but it wasn’t until years later that I connected the two events.

So you didn’t even have to grow up in Chicago to have the fire have an effect on your life.

Anyone else have memories of growing up at the time of the fire? Feel free to share your comments below.

3 Responses

  1. I remember the constant fire drills in Catholic grade school while growing up in Rockford, Ill. The nuns would always point to the Chicago fire as the reason, but we never heard much more than that. A lot of memories from survivors can be found in a new book published by former Chicago Daily News writer/columnist John Kuenster. It’s called “Remembrances of the Angels: 50th Anniversary Reminiscences of the Fire No One Can Forget” in hardback from Ivan R. Dee, Publisher in Chicago (312-787-6262).

  2. I was a young housewife in NJ with two small children on Dec 1, 1958. I was horrified as I watched the evening news that night. I never forgot it and the tragedy came to my mind every Dec 1 every year after that. Anyone who was living at that time had to be similarly impacted by the horror.

  3. My grandfather was a Chicago Fireman who was on the scene that day. He woke up with nightmares from that fire for many years afterwards.

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